As widely recognized as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” one of Claude Monet’s celebrated “Water Lilies” paintings has made its debut at the Speed Art Museum2035 S. Third St.
“Even if you don’t know much about art, Monet is a household name,” said Erika Holmquist-Wall, curator of the Speed Art Museum. “A work by Monet, of this caliber, has never been showcased during the lifetime of the Speed. To be able to come here and see it in person is a really big deal.”
Currently, on loan from an anonymous collection, “Nymphéas,” one of the earliest versions of the painter’s famed waterlily subjects, is the focal point in Gallery 13 at the Speed. The painting, one of 25 in Monet’s first series of waterlilies, captures the complex relationships among water, reflections, and light, and is a lovely meditation on the passage of a moment in time.
“Impressionism is all about taking the same subject and painting it under different lighting and atmospheric conditions, “Holmquist-Wall told The Courier Journal.” The artist is working as fast as possible in order to capture an impression taking place in a moment or slice of time .”
Monet began painting waterlilies in the 1890s after moving to Giverny, France. The famous impressionist never needed to travel far to find the subjects he loved to paint. The artist, who was also a master gardener, organized his property at Giverny as though it was a huge painting. With a team of assistants, he built a lavish Japanese lily pond with surrounding gardens. “Nymphéas,” which he painted in 1897, represents one of Monet’s first explorations of the theme of the lily pond. It became a subject the artist was devoted to for the remainder of his life.
According to Holmquist-Wall, “after the first series of waterlilies, he put them away until World War I when he was inspired to revisit the series.”
For the next 30 years, until his death in 1925, the French Impressionist painted hundreds of different-sized canvasses, filled with images of his backyard lily ponds. Depending on the time of day and the season, the color palette of each of his water lily paintings varied according to the sunlight. In later years, the artist’s eyesight began to deteriorate but he continued to create. During this time, his painting style became more abstract, perhaps because cataracts had blurred his vision.
“He gifted a series of enormous 20-foot-long water lily panoramas, which are in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, France to the French State as a symbol of peace on Armistice Day in 1918, the day which, in effect, ended the World War,” Holmquist-Wall said.
Each day, the massive Water Lilies exhibit at the museum in Paris is visited by hundreds of visitors who view them as Monet intended, as an immersive, meditative experience. While the Monet exhibit at the Speed is tiny in comparison, it’s interesting to consider that without “Nymphéas,” there may have been no future Water Lilies collection to enjoy at Musée de l’Orangerie. The first series of paintings of which “Nymphéas” is a part, inspired all of Monet’s future art.
At the Speed, Holmquist-Wall placed “Nymphéas” on a wall facing an earlier work by Monet, “The Church at Varengeville-sur-Mer, Gray Weather.” The recently restored painting of a church on a hillside overlooking the ocean is a permanent piece in the museum’s collection and was created a decade before Monet began working from the banks of his lily pond at his home in Giverny.
The temporary exhibit also includes a display of a selection of photographs from Stephen Shore taken of the lily pond and grounds at Monet’s home.
“I suggest you bring your senses to a work of art like ‘Nymphéas,’ especially when it’s a work dedicated to a single moment,” said the Speed’s curator. “Breath in and let your eyes relax and you’ll find yourself looking below the surface of the water at lily pads growing underwater. At the moment, you can almost hear bees buzzing and sense the sunlight sparkling off the pond.”
On loan to the Speed until February 2023, “Nymphéas” is a rare opportunity to view one of the world’s finest pieces of Impressionism from the 19th-century art movement, without the need to travel far from home.
“We were able to secure this exquisite painting from collectors in the region and are very pleased with their interest in sharing this invaluable painting with us and our communities,” Speed Director Raphaela Platow said in a news release. this beautiful, early waterlily painting by one of the most celebrated in concert with our Claude artists painting and to celebrate the summer month through the artist’s observant eyes.”
Holmquist-Wall agreed, saying “it is very much an invitation to drop into the moment of time that Monet captured with simple materials, pigment on canvas. I think. that is the alchemy and magic of art. And now, actually being able to experience this in person is pretty incredible.”
Reach Features reporter Kirby Adams at email@example.com.
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